Friday, February 27, 2009

Now That is a Hat

Taken out the car window on the way to the grocery store.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The "Nature" Trail

Eventually the snowy trails we had been following met back up with the well-traveled and therefore ice-packed "nature trail." The friendly visitors' center staff had told us we would see some animals on this trail out in the open air, which seemed a bit odd. Well, it turns out the National Park nature trail is more or less a zoo. The animals do have large enclosures, and are all local (or close enough - there were no giraffes, at least). We saw wild boars, wolves, and owls, and might have seen bears and elk if the season were right or if we had really spent much time looking. The worst part was that the trail was made more visitor-friendly by installing stairs on the inclines, which are not so easy in snowshoes - we mostly hopped off the trail to go overland beside the stairs when it was possible, but it wasn't always an option.

In any case, the park was very pretty and well maintained, but definitely a little less focused on outdoor recreation than what we would expect from our National Parks back home.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Snowshoeing and the Arts

Continuing from the previous post's tale of snowshoeing in Gauja National Park...

The snowshoeing trail we did was really short, so we decided to follow another random trail that didn't seem to be heading back to the parking lot. Along this trail, we were surprised to find a series of sculptures, hewn fairly roughly out of tree stumps. Mostly they were figurative, including a couple women, a bear doing some sort of salute or dance or something, and a couple that it was hard to tell what was going on. Definitely not something we were expecting out in the middle of the woods. Of course, even the middle of the woods in Latvia is rarely all that far from civilization.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Mighty Gauja

Your correspondents did their best to arrive in Latvia prepared for the long, dark winter. We calculated that we would need some way to get out and exercise during those frozen six months, so we invested in snowshoes. We tried to invest in cross-country skis, but those took a little more research and a little more expense and it just didn't happen. But that's just as well, because the secret of the long, dark, frozen winter here is that it is long, it is dark, and it is frozen, but it isn't really all that snowy. Reliable reports indicate that there were only a couple decent snowstorms the whole winter last year, and this year is barely ahead of that.

In any case, after a few meager inches of snow last week, your correspondents felt like they needed to get out and justify the purchase of said snowshoes. We went to the Gauja National Park, centered around Latvia's most scenic river, and found a visitors' center to inquire about trails. The friendly visitors' center employee told us that several trails were closed because of snow, but the nature walk, where one could see a variety of animals, was open. We tried in vain to explain that we wanted to walk on snowy trails because we had snowshoes. This is a hard concept to explain without the word "snowshoes" in one's vocabulary. Because to literally say "snow shoes" makes it sound like you have winter boots, which isn't really the same.

Anyway, we decided to try out the closed trail and were rewarded with the above picturesque view of the Gauja.

Monday, February 23, 2009


This is not a particularly interesting picture, but it might give the viewer a sense of what highway driving is like in Latvia. There are a lot of forests, and many of them are secondary growth, miles and miles of uniformly tall, skinny pines with no branches below thirty feet or so. It's actually quite pretty and kind of mesmerizing to watch as you're speeding by, being passed in turn by insane people doing twice the speed limit in their tinted-window BMWs who are probably not appreciating the odd undergrowth-free forests at all.

Friday, February 20, 2009

One more from Kipsala

If anyone is scouting locations for a movie set in a haunted house, you could do worse than Kipsala island.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kipsala Rulzzz

An example of one of the less well-kept, but obviously still inhabited buildings in Kipsala. I'm not sure why everyone was flying the Latvian flag on Monday - probably not for Presidents' Day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kipsala Architecture

Not that this style of architecture is unique to Kipsala, but there is more open space around the buildings there, as opposed to some of the car-lined or narrow streets on the right side of the river. This one has clearly had some windows replaced -- but not all of them -- which is still a fair bit more modernization than some of its neighbors have seen.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This is a little branch of the Daugava that goes around the island of Kipsala, basically directly across the river from Old Riga. It hasn't been cold enough long enough to freeze the main channel of the river solid enough to walk across (we think), but the side channel is apparently cold enough for ice fishing. I never saw him catch anything, and it didn't seem like a very popular spot, but maybe he was just there to enjoy the scenery.

Friday, February 13, 2009


The first picture of the lock bridge featured a padlock with two names on it, maybe painted in Wite-Out. Writing names with anything from sharpies to full-on script engraving is not uncommon. We hope that Wolfdog remembered to put his wife's name on the other side of the lock, and that her name is something equally bad-ass.

Happy Valentine's Day, Wolfdog and Tigercat!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Lock Bridge

So there is a small canal that defines the border of Old Riga opposite the Daugava. The canal is crossed by a number of small bridges. In what we gather is a mostly Russian tradition, on their wedding day, a bride and groom attach a lock to a bridge and then throw the key in the water. We won't insult your intelligence by further explaining the symbolism. In any case, many of the bridges in Riga feature a fair number of locks in the summer wedding season - your correspondent has actually seen a vague line of decked-out couples waiting patiently, photographer at their side, for their turn to put their lock on some of the more picturesque bridges.

Mostly, apparently unmoved by the symbolism, city employees go around every so often and cut all the locks off the bridges - except, that is, for one of the smallest and most picturesque bridges, where they are allowed to accumulate longer, or maybe indefinitely. Unsurprisingly, this is the bridge with the biggest observed summertime bridal queues.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Olya + Dima

An older picture from a sunnier time in Riga, but I think they're still there. Any guesses from the loyal readership what this is about? Hint: the Rusophiles in the audience may have the best shot. We're actually not trying to cajole you into commenting, just trying to stretch out some pictures of the same thing across a few days. Our new faster-paced publishing schedule may not have been a wise course of action.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Brave New World

We here at the Holla are always pushing the envelope to bring you the very best of what's happening in Latvia or wherever. Like how we figured out the thing that lets us write enough posts for a week and then tell the computer when to post them, so we didn't actually have to have some time to spare each time we wanted to post something. That happened no more than a few years after such technology was available. And now, also only a few years late, we are breaking into the exciting world of internet picture shows. E.g., this video, our first ever, which is basically just like the picture we put up yesterday of the four guys who have one giant four-head-holed hockey sweater that reads "Latvija."

Wow. It's really eerily like the picture, in that it doesn't really impart more meaning or insight than the still picture did. But hey, these days we look back at some of the first pictures that the photo department thought were worthy of publication here and cringe. Surely when we direct our Latvian version of "Casablanca," we'll look back at this and laugh.

Oh, also, seats 10 rows up and between the blue lines, $25. This may be the first thing we have found that is cheaper in Latvia than in the States, other than maybe (what? I never finished this sentence, now I'm re-reading a couple weeks later and I think I gave up on a funny example... - ed). Hockey fans take note.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Latvia is heading to Vancouver. Your correspondents witnessed the second of three games in the qualifying tournament here in Riga, when the home town team faced Ukraine, thought to be their fiercest competitors in the group. They emerged victorious in a tense 4-2 battle, sealed only by an empty-net goal in the final minute. They also defeated Hungary and Italy to move on to the Olympics in 2010.

Hockey is a fun sport to watch, and it certainly helps that Latvia has a team that punches far above the weight one would expect from a nation of 2 million souls. Perhaps more important are the famously boisterous Latvian hockey fans, who impressed even the Canadians for their dedication, knowledge of the game, and willingness to travel from Eastern Europe to Halifax, Nova Scotia, of all places, to cheer their team on to barely avoiding relegation out of the top division for the 2009 competition.

On Friday evening, they cheered constantly, with all variety cheers shoe-horning "Latvia" into both what would be two-syllable and three-syllable cheers in English. Well done, boys.

Friday, February 06, 2009


The Photo Department was beginning to complain about the number of pictures recently that have been highly illustrative but not actually interesting as pictures. So here's a small step back in that direction. It's from Old Riga, and it's black and white, so it has to have some artistic merit, no? We're not sure what function the doors on the higher levels once served. Presumably there was a stairway, or maybe they were just for throwing something stored in the building down to the street level.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wintry Mix

These are some of the various social services employees who attended the event near Daugavpils for the opening of a children's center built by Uncle Sam, as mentioned briefly a couple weeks ago. They were all very nice. We're putting this here only as an example of two notable sartorial differences between here and the States.

First, there is a lot of fur here. Real fur. And I don't get the sense that most women got their furs mostly guilt-free from their grandparents, a la The Lovely Katherine.

Secondly, you may notice the layer of snow and (we assure you) ice on the ground. You may also notice that two of the women whose shoes are visible are wearing some fairly substantial high heels. Latvian women are apparently trained from birth to wear impressive high heels year-round, whether on rutted dirt roads or icy cobblestones. It's either very impressive or mildly insane, depending on who you ask.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More Commie Ceramics

One more item from the world-class Latvian Art Museum ceramic collection. Wouldn't you love to have a full service for 12 of china in this charming pattern of the sun rising (or setting?) over glorious workers' paradise of productive smokestacks, their plumes of smoke visible far and wide, spreading the news of the victory of the proletariat?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


It was sunny this weekend for the first time since who knows when. Unfortunately, when it's clear is actually when it is the coldest. As it was in single digits (F), or double digits below (C), your correspondents did make sure to actually go outside and see the sun, but did not spend any great lengths of time outside.

We did manage to make it the two blocks from the Holla European Headquarters to the Latvian Art Museum. To be polite, one might say that music, dance, and poetry are where the Latvian people have channeled their greatest creative energies over the years. The temporary exhibition -- contemporary photography by a woman who did portraits of the residents of a modest apartment building in Riga over the last four years -- was excellent. The permanent collection, largely comprised of Latvian painting from the few hundred years preceeding World War II, had a few nice pieces.

One of the highlights, for its novelty value more than anything, was a small collection of ceramics, including those (barely adequately) pictured above. They come from a truly odd and certainly museum-caliber set of communist-themed chess pieces. It would have been cool if the opposing player's pieces were fat bankers wearing monocles and smoking cigars, or other capatalist parasites, but they were just the same as these in different colors.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Mr. Safety

All appearances aside, this actually has nothing to do with last week's series of pictures from the Ligatne Bunker. Last week, your correspondent volunteered/was pressed into service as a member of the Embassy's First Responder Team. It is very hard to imagine that Riga is a serious target for a terrorist chemical weapons attack, but it's not impossible. In fact, Riga was one of the many U.S. Embassies that received a suspicious letter filled with white powder in December. They all turned out to contain not weaponized anthrax but all-purpose flour, but it did remind everyone to stay prepared.

As such, this is the team that, in the case of another suspicious-powder letter or even a sarin gas attack on the Embassy, will spring into action doing search and rescue, testing what the agent is, and most importantly, stripping all the victims naked and scrubbing away any trace of potential chemical or biological weapons. We did a no-actual-nakedness drill on Friday. Lucky, too, as it was below freezing out. I certainly hope that if someone decides to drop VX nerve gas on the Embassy, they choose a mild spring day to do so.

Bonus points to alert readers who can determine which gas-mask-and-chem-suit-wearing figure in this picture is your correspondent.